Understanding emotional triggers




It can be something as simple as a joke about you having gained a few pounds. It can be a commentary that meant well but just reminded of someone else that hurt you. It can be that you tried your best to be perfect and someone makes a remark that makes you think you just fell short. We all have triggers, that make us react and feel in a certain way. Some are good and pleasant, others are just incredibly painful. We all have a negativity bias, we can listen to a thousand compliments but if someone criticizes even the tiniest thing about us, it’s those harsh words that tend to stick out for us.

When we get triggered most of the times we realize we blown things out of proportion: we felt too much anger, rage, sadness, fear or resentment in comparation to the event that caused the problems in our behaviour.

Anything in this world has the potential to be a trigger: a tone of voice, an opinion that clashes with our deep seated beliefs, a viewpoint, a word that you dislike. What is an emotional trigger? It’s a reaction made of intensity and excess that takes place insides us when confronted with a particular experience. Sympthoms may include a racing heart, cold sweats or hot flushes, choking feeling, trouble breahing or a dissociation feeling (getting detached from reality).

Three factors that can be emotional triggers are: opposing beliefs and values, trauma and ego preservation. We all have values that matter to us and when someone challenges them, we feel like our lives are being put in danger, alongisde our sense of safety and comfort. Religion is among those topics that can be emotionally triggering. Experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) go as far back as soldiers returning from the war. When something happens that reminds us of traumatic events, we can experience extreme panic and fear like the situation is happening all over again to us. The ego is the sense of self or “I” that we carry with us and that make us fit in socially. The mission of the ego is self protection and when we sense something is threatening our sense of self we tend to fight back or sabotage.

The only way to get through emotional triggers is to do some inner digging: realize your motivations, unfifilled dreams, your desires, what drives you, what makes you fall. Do the work to connect with yourself, strive for a balance in your body, mind and soul. Recognize your thought process, your emotional reactions but don’t fall into the trap of idenitifying with them. You are more than what hurts you or bothers you, you’re more than the intrusive concerns that keep you awake at night. The key word here is awareness: be mindful, notice the changes in you and don’t do anything you may regret later. Face your hurdles head on, be proactive about it and never think inner peace is a falacy. Being peaceful is just doing your best, taking life one breath at a time. One moment at a time. Day by day.


Paula Gouveia